Monday, June 3, 2024
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n the 22nd day of May 2024, the Catholic Diocese of Ekwulobia (CADEK) in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State buried an illustrious priest of God and lover of humanity, late Reverend Father Wenceslaus Ndubueze Ofojebe, aged 68. The Diocesan Bishop, His Eminence Peter Ebere Cardinal Okpaleke, presided over the burial Mass. The Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Reverend Paulinus Chukwuemeka Ezeokafor, concelebrated. Over hundred priests from different dioceses also concelebrated. A good number of Religious women and innumerable lay men and lay women from different works of life were present. In fact Saint Joseph's Cathedral Ekwulobia was filled to the brim. With my visionary eyes I saw the Hosts of Heaven before the Altar of Sacrifice, which included the Holy Trinity, the Archangels, the Angels and the Saints. It was a glorious sight to behold.

In his opening remarks, the presiding Prelate, Cardinal Okpaleke, narrated how the ailing (now late) priest came to him recently after a burial Mass at Ezinifite. In simple touching words he (the ailing priest) said, "Your Eminence, I am going home." By so saying, it was clear that he had a premonition of his death. The four parting words touched my heart so deeply. Tears dropped from my eyes. Immediately I started to meditate on what going home means for me and the rest of humanity.

Between 2001 and 2003 I was pursuing my theological License at Philosophisch-Theologische Hochshule Vallendar in Germany. There I came in contact with a Pallottine priest friend from Cameroon. He was my closest neighbor. The two of us were the only blacks living among a community of German Pallottine priests and brothers. He spoke French while I speak English. Hence we interacted in German language. After some time, he fell seriously sick and was diagnosed of Tuberculosis, which is an infectious disease. Hence he was isolated. Whenever I visited him in the hospital, I wore face mask and hand cloves. With time he was cured. Later he caught a terminal disease which was kidney failure. We were doing the same course, but I came a year before him. Therefore I finished my few months' language learning and two-year theological course before him. As I was preparing to fly back to Nigeria, I asked him to go back to Cameroon since he was very sick. He insisted that he would finish his course before flying home. I wished him well and left.

When I left, a priest friend from my former diocese (Awka) came to the same institution to study. He replaced me in my room. He also became friendly with the ailing Cameroonian priest. As time went by, the priest who replaced me sent me a short e-mail message which read, "Padre Godfrey Owona ist heimgegangen." The translation is: Father Godfrey Owona has gone home. He managed to go back to Cameroon and he died two weeks after. I wept grievously over my friend's demise after series of protracted illnesses. May he continue to rest in peace! He has gone home.

The concept of 'going home' took my mind back to my boyhood days as a pupil of Our Lady of Fatima Boys' Primary School Jos in the then Benue-Plateau State. From the morning assembly ground we marched class by class into our classrooms singing: "O my home! O my home!! (Twice) When shall I see my home!? When shall I see my native Land!? I will never forget my ho-o-me!!!"

Home is a place where someone lives temporary or permanently. The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines home as "the place where you came from or where you usually live, especially when this is the place where you feel happy and comfortable." A common saying has it that there is no place like home. There is always feeling of joy in going home. In German language, home is called 'Heimat.' When I arrived at Germany initially, I suffered from what is called 'Heimweh' which is known in English as home sickness. Even though Germany is well developed and everything is working well, I really felt like returning home to Nigeria where life is rugged. Our Igbo people say, "Etu be onye adina, o na-ala." This means that there is joy in going home no matter its condition.

All said and done, there are two types of home: the earthly home and the eternal home. The first is temporal while the second is everlasting. The Catechism of Christian Doctrine teaches that God created us to know Him, to Love Him, to serve Him here on earth and to be happy with Him forever in Heaven. The popular musician Jim Reeves sang an indelible song which goes this way: "This world is not my home. I'm just a-passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me from Heaven's to open door and I can't feel at home in this world anymore. Oh Lord you know I have no friend like you. If heaven's not my home, then Lord what will I do? ." Oh, what an inspirational song! If I go to Heaven I shall look for Jim Reeves and stay by his side to enjoy this song forever.

Life in this temporal home called earth is full of struggle and stress. No wonder before his death, resurrection and ascension into Heaven Jesus our loving Saviour prayed for us in these words: "I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world whereas I am going to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name so that they may be one, just as we are. When I was with them, I kept them safe in your Name, and not one was lost except the one who chose to be lost (John 17:11 -12). As his creatures on earth, God endowed us with freedom of will. We choose between good and evil; between salvation and damnation. We are therefore responsible for whatever choice we make. That's why Saint Paul emphasizes that we shall reap over there whatever we sowed here on earth (Galatians 6:7). Saint Augustine says that God created us without our cooperation, but He cannot save us without our cooperation.

As we prepare to go home, three things await us: Death, Judgment, Heaven or Hell. The ultimate question for you and for me is: Where shall we spend our eternity? Heaven is for the righteous while hell is for the unrighteous. In his merciful love it is underlined that God does not desire the death of a sinner; rather God wants him or her to repent (Ezekiel 18:23). Indeed if God does not temper justice with mercy, Heaven will be empty because nothing impure will enter there. Those who died in the state of venial sins or under punishment due to forgiven mortal sins are being purified in Purgatory. The Operation Purge which began here on earth shall be completed there. It is obvious that those who died in the state of mortal sins spend their eternity in Hell. Do not be deceived. Heaven and Hell are real. Heaven is our real home. If we miss Heaven, then we become homeless forever.

All human beings must go home when the time appointed by God comes. The actual time is uncertain. Thus we must remain vigilant and prayerful. We go home through the hands of death. William Shakespeare said that death is an inevitable end which must come when it will come. Those who lived good lives on earth will go home happy while those who led bad lives go home with tears. May God help us with his grace as we struggle here on earth to reach our eternal home in Heaven! Amen!